In 2003, just a year after Barrington hired John LaCross as its new police chief, the long-time law enforcement officer asked local officials for permission to place a resource officer at the high school.
The answer was no.
Now, days after the tragic school shooting at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school, Chief LaCross believes that local officials will re-kindle a conversation about bringing resource officers into Barrington schools.
“I plan on meeting with the town manager and the superintendent. We’ve met already, but we’re going to talk again … I’m sure the resources officers will come up,” Chief LaCross said.
The local police chief has long been a strong supporter of posting police officers — they would be armed — inside the high school. He said he is also a proponent of installing officers inside the middle school and all four elementary schools.
“Let’s do it,” he said. “Absolutely.”
He said there are numerous benefits to having resource officers in local schools. In addition to having an armed guard there to protect school children, the officers also offer an educational component to the schools and bridge a gap between local youth and law enforcement.
Chief LaCross said the town used to have a DARE program that carried through the sixth grade, but that lost support years ago.
“These officers do a lot more than just security,” he said.
Barrington School Committee Chairman Bob Shea said he was looking forward to discussing the issue with public school administrators and local police.
Speaking as a parent, Mr. Shea said he was not entirely sure that placing resource officers inside local schools is the correct way to approach the situation. He questioned whether having a police officer in the schools will actually make the children feel safer.
“I certainly want to make sure the schools are safe, but this is a learning environment,” he said. “I don’t want the only way my children to feel safe is in the presence of an armed guard.”
Mr. Shea, who emphasized that he was only speaking as a parent and not on behalf of the school committee, said prior to the Dec. 14 shooting his opinion had been set in stone.
“If you had asked me prior to last week, I would have said no,” to placing resource officers in local schools. “I am open to hearing other peoples’ positions.”
Mr. Shea said he recently asked Barrington Schools Superintendent Michael Messore to prepare a briefing regarding school safety and security for members of the school committee.
Back in 2003, officials and students from Barrington High School visited a high school in Sandwich, Mass. to observe a resource officer program in action and to gauge its potential in Barrington.
Though impressed, the students felt as if a similar system wouldn’t work in Barrington. A year later, members of the Barrington School Committee said the same thing.
School committee members said “a lot of parents, students and administrators” felt that having a resource officer at the high school “sends a message that were are going to be policing, on the premises, the activities of the students on a regular basis … [and] in effect may create a chilling affect on the quality and delivery of education in the district.”
Some people also raised concerns about the costs associated with adding the position.
“Financially it would be a big burden to the town,” said Chief LaCross, who estimated that taxpayers would face a total cost of about $80,000 (salary and benefits) per officer.
It is unknown whether local taxpayers might feel differently about having resource officers in Barrington schools following the tragic deaths of the 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Barrington voters have shown a willingness to spend more money than initially budgeted; at last May’s financial town meeting voters approved an additional $140,000 to pay for an industrial arts teacher at the middle school.
Chief LaCross said it was difficult for him to gauge how the voting public might respond to a proposal to add resource officers at Barrington schools.
“That’s really hard to say. You don’t know how people are going to react,” he said.